Take a minute and think, what do you want to get out of the next month? Year? 10 years?
Is it to progress your career? start a family? Go on luxurious holidays? build a home?
Regardless of the answer, if you ask yourself ‘why’ a few times you will probably come to the answer ‘to be Happy’.
Fame, money, respect, status are secondary in some ways to the reason we want them… Happiness.
Happiness has been described as the ultimate currency. Every pursuit in life, however grand or conservative always comes back to the slightly naive and simple, playground goal of wanting to be happy. Happiness is an emotion, and, like all emotions, can change on a whim depending on what’s going on in our lives. The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘Happy’ as ‘feelings, showing or causing pleasure or satisfaction’ but what does being happy mean to you? We so commonly buy into assumptions of what emotions are, we so rarely stop and unpick these labels for ourselves.
We can often see it in binary terms as either, we are happy or unhappy. However, a far more empowering and helpful way of looking at it is seeing happiness along a continuum. Every choice we make being able to move ourselves up or down the ‘Farral Williams’ Chart from weeping in our pillows to dancing in the street.
Are you happy?
It’s a hard question to answer. So many of us strive for this golden chalice but we don’t even know if we have a taste of it or not.
So I want to share a few tips on how we can start to own this elusive, slippery concept called happiness and ensure we are having a piece of the pie every day.
- Think details and rituals: Rather than pinning all your happiness on the yachts, penthouses, and Caribbean islands. Focus on the details, the specifics of the day-to-day that could make you a little happier. Once you know the little things that would add to your happiness then start to ritualise them! This may not sound too spontaneous or fun but, routinely building in activities every day that make you happy, are key to your overall well-being. Ten minutes of reading before work. A cup of tea in your garden. Do an art class once a week. It might not set the world alight, but adding 1% more happiness a day soon has an accumulative effect, more specifically 365 % within a year.
- Pleasure and meaning: For ultimate happiness, we need to think about juggling short-term fun with a long-term focus. Instant gratification is great but too much and it can feel a bit hedonistic and off-putting, a bit like too much ice cream. Having a meaning for the future is also important to spur you on. However, if the focus becomes solely on 10 years down the line, whilst living a life like Scrooge, then that sounds pretty dull too. We need to balance these two components, the present pleasure, and meaningful future, check in with your goals and time use, are you getting a balance?
- Be present: ‘Life is what happens when you are busy making plans’ as John Lennon famously said. How true is that? Life isn’t lived tomorrow, or only on the weekends, it doesn’t switch on at 5 pm Friday then disappear Monday morning to hibernate… It’s right now. In the words of the wise Kung Fu Panda “, Yesterday was history, tomorrow is a mystery, all we have is this present”. The only time we have the potential to be present is in this exact moment as you read these words. So it makes sense the more we tune into this ‘now’ the more available happiness is to us. We can do this regularly with something called Mindfulness training, which conditions our brain to be more present in each moment, rather than caught up in thoughts about the past or the future. So if you are serious about putting happiness firmly on your agenda then prioritising mindfulness may be a wise move.
- Appreciate we are not designed to be happy: News flash, human beings are not designed to be happy we are designed to survive. Think about it, it didn’t matter when we were cavemen and women if we had a big grin on our faces. It mattered that we were paranoid, hypervigilant, and scared because these qualities would keep us constantly on the lookout for dangers and ultimately alive. Unfortunately, these habits have resulted in the current culture of ruminating, anxious and depressed folk. Another way of putting it is that our brains are wired Velcro for negative, Teflon for positive. We simply don’t need to cling on to positive thoughts for our survival, so we let them go!
This doesn’t mean we can’t be happy, it just means we have to work a little harder to achieve it.
So we can be a little kinder to ourselves when we aren’t skipping down the street dancing like Fred Astaire.
- Cultivating an attitude of gratitude: And for those of you that think this all sounds like too much work it may be reassuring to know that a feeling of happiness can be cultivated by simply shifting our awareness and becoming more grateful. More thankful for the little things in a day that we may not notice as we rush around being a great ‘human being’ as opposed to ‘human doing’. Taking regular breaks to be thankful and ‘sweat the small stuff’ has pretty impressive results, taking pauses for gratitude in our day not only improves our wellbeing and happiness but adds an astounding 7 years to our life.
So ultimately, as lucrative as our happiness may sound, it could only be one choice, two rejigs of our thinking, or three moments of gratitude away. Recognising that we are responsible for our happiness and that it is accessible right now puts us in the driving seat to own and ultimately change it.
What change can you make in the next 24 hours to shift you 1% forward?
This article is based on the work by Tal Ben-Sharar, Sonja lyubomirsky, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and my own life experience. It accompanies the workshop as part of the Manchester Law Society, Wellbeing series. You can watch my on demand webinar “ Let go of happy, it’s all about happIER” at www.itsmental.co.uk
Anna is a wellbeing coach, bringing 20 years of experience and a background in Occupational Therapy to support individuals learn the skills to tools to support psychological wellbeing, mental health and long-term happiness. We are proud at It’s Mental to have her on our Panel of Experts. You can find out more about Anna go to https://www.itsmental.co.uk/Anna-croucher